Objection and ME

I’m annoyed. Annoyed at myself mainly, but also annoyed at this condition I suffer from. (Last week I published a post about ME, which you can read here.)

As part of my MA in writing I set to writing a World War One novel. There were two main reasons for doing this. The first was that I have always had a love for history, and learning the lessons of the past to contextualise where we are today. As a teenager, I visited the battlefields of the Somme and Ypres. The graves and memorials set off something in me, something that I can only describe as a longing to understand “why”?

The second reason for writing the novel is that I wanted to take myself out of my comfort zone of science fiction and fantasy and take advantage of the advice and guidance available on my Masters.

The more I researched the setting the more I saw how much Liverpool was linked to the war, and how much it was shaped by it. Everything around me held some link to the war. There were also several Liverpool regiments that fought in the bloodiest battlefields of the Great War. There were so many stories that needed to be told. I’d also watched a Sky one show called ‘Chickens’ about the conscientious objectors, those that refused to fight in the First World War, and it struck me that even a hundred years later these people were considered to be cowards. It infuriated me, and I decided to put a conscientious objector in my novel; the soldier’s brother.

Through drafting it became more and more obvious that both brothers had a story to tell, and through their contrasting stories would show the greater horror of The Great War.

I’m annoyed because last May (2016) I finished the full manuscript of the novel. (The first part was heavily edited as part of my portfolio work for my MA), and I was fairly happy to start sending it out to agents.

I’m annoyed because I then got very ill. I had the worst sinus infection I have ever had, and begun to feel like I did before I was first diagnosed with ME. I’ve only recently started to get back on my feet.

I’m annoyed because I’ve been sending it out to agents recently, but I’m worried that they will think I only wrote this novel to ride on the interest and popularity of the centenary of the First World War, which to me was merely a coincidence for the reasons I have mentioned earlier. I’m also worried that because it is already 2017 and a publishing cycle usually takes about two years (or so I believe?), that agents/publishers won’t take a risk because they think that it will miss the centenary of the end of the war, and the resultant interest.

I’m also annoyed because the film Hacksaw Ridge came out of left field and told the story of a ‘conchie’ in the second world war. It’s a different story, as conchies in WWI arguably had to go through a lot more, but it’s still a concern that people may feel this novel was written due to that. (I wish I could write 130,000 words that quickly!)

I hope that someone will pick it up. It was a very important story to write, and an important story to tell. I genuinely believe people will gain something from reading it. It would be a shame for it to sit in my drawer for the rest of my days.

If you know someone who may be interested, or are interested yourself, please get in contact. I will be more than happy to hear from you!

Re…search…? WW1

Hi guys, as some of you may know I am in the process of planning and writing a WW1 novel.

I also have to pitch it to agents and publishers over the next few weeks as part of my MA class. If last night’s practice was anything to go by it will be okay, but I need more information.

I have an idea for characters and plot, which I’m really excited about, but anything I can do to flesh it out and/or hone it would be incredibly useful.

Due to this year being the centenary of the outbreak of war there has of course been a massive interest in it. There has also been an influx of books and novels on the subject. There are just too many books that have been published since 1918 to physically be able to read them.

So I’m asking for your help, and comments are very much encouraged in this.

I would like to know what WW1 books (preferably novels) you have read and a short comment on the focus of the story (regiment, battle, character, etc.). I’m especially looking to know if there are any novels that cover the King’s Liverpool Regiment or Liverpool Pals Battalion.

Your help will be greatly appreciated, and if it ever gets published I will see if I can include a list of acknowledgements!

Thanks for reading.

Lest We Forget…

I haven’t made a blog post in a couple of weeks, for two reasons. I haven’t had a writing workshop on my course. We have been looking at other things. Also, I have been quite busy writing stuff that I can’t post on here. One of which was a submission to Black Library.

So, I thought, given the importance of the date, that I would post a flash fiction piece I wrote for a magazine which never saw the light of day. I don’t believe it needs any introduction or any comment on setting from me.

The Day

by Michael J. Hollows

The noise grew to a cacophony as it had done each time before, wailing like sirens before finishing in a calamitous bang. British artillery shells fell in the distance, throwing up great clods of dirt that could be seen from the British army’s position. Each shell whined overhead, causing the assembled men to flinch and duck instinctively each time, despite the distance. It was always the same, the noise. Each time the commanders decided to try and pummel the Bosch into the ground, the boys at the back would aim their cannons and the shells would fly. The sound of massed artillery was not easily forgotten. But they had been through it before, countless times, to get to where they were today. It didn’t make it any less uncomfortable though.

Private Gerald Harlow ducked again as he heard the wash of another shell go overhead. He cursed as his foot slipped off the boarding and threw mud up his fatigues. The mud added to the wetness around his ankles as he placed his sodden boot back on the boarding with a squelch. He looked at the men lined up either side of him, they were all soaked through. Gerald had run out of fresh socks weeks ago, he had even forgotten what dry feet felt like. His comrades likened this place to hell, but at least hell is supposed to be warm, he thought bitterly.

The dull crump of the artillery added to the misery as Gerald surveyed his surroundings once more, trying to warm himself up. The equally miserable men around him were all of similar age. Young men gone from their homes to fight in the British Expeditionary Force. Many of them had had no other choice, no prospects. Some had chosen it. But Gerry, as the others called him, had enlisted underage to get away from his home; to get away from a difficult life. His family were poor and aging, few were left. Only his sister had managed to make any money for herself by marrying in to a somewhat wealthy family. If he had stayed at home, he would have been living in poverty now, the army had given him a way out. Looking around, it didn’t seem like such a good idea now.

The captain was moving along the line of men, swagger stick under his arm, whistle held lightly in the other hand. He was a good man, as he passed each soldier he offered words of encouragement and a brief smile. As Gerald knew from experience this was a rarity in the army. The man also reminded him of home, whether it was the comforting Hampshire accent, or the body language that reminded him so much of his late father, he couldn’t quite tell. A note in his diary that morning, that had also been transcribed as a letter waiting to head home, said as much.

Today was the first of July, 1916 and the letter had told his elderly mother about his experiences in the army at great length and about the men he had met. He had ended it with the line, “Today is the day, today I become a man.” After writing it he had thrown up into a latrine and headed out on duty. Several hours later he found himself standing where he stood now, with his sodden boots and the deafening sounds of artillery.

The squelch of footfalls preceded the Captain reaching his position. As with all the others, he stopped briefly, putting a hand to Gerald’s arm and with a commanding tone so easy to him he said, “Are you ready, son?”

Naturally, Gerald swallowed nervously and deeply, before raising his head to look his Captain in the eyes. He struggled to control his nerves and his hands were shaking gently by his sides, but he managed a curt nod. The Captain smiled knowingly and moved on, removing his hand from the Private’s arm. An odd sense of relief flashed through Gerald, before he remembered the oncoming battle and his stomach fell again.

He hadn’t noticed the absence of sound, but it seemed strange now. He had grown almost familiar with the noise of the artillery barrage and had somehow phased it out of conscious thought. Now it was gone however, its absence was far more obvious and somehow disturbing. The cessation of the bombardment meant only one thing and Gerald swallowed deeply again while he shuffled his feet.

The Captain turned on his heel and looked along the line of his men. Breathing deeply he bellowed, “This is it, lads. The big push, get rea-“

His call was interrupted by a series of dull explosions nearby, which made Gerald’s stomach lurch and almost tipped him forward where he stood.

Unperturbed the Captain continued his speech, “That’s the mines, men. Now when you go over the top Fritz will be reeling so much you can walk all the way without seeing a single one alive! See you there! Ready?”

Gerald heard his Captain’s words and felt reassured by them, surely a man of his experience knew exactly what he was talking about and as the Captain put the whistle to his mouth the Private felt an immense sense of pride. He was finally a man.

The sound of whistles broke out all along the trench as the officers signalled their men to battle and they were soon joined by the shouts of the soldiers, roaring at the top of their voices.

Gerald added his own voice to the chorus, screaming until his lungs burnt with the exertion. Without another thought he followed his comrades up the ladder, placing his foot on the bottom rung and propelling himself into no man’s land.

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